Techniques for Mixed Media Layering

Updated on December 29, 2017
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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing & crochet.


Layered Mixed Media Art on a Budget

There is a tidal wave of supplies for mixed media coming onto the market daily... and I find myself being swept along with it all – wanting, nay, needing all the latest inks, metallics, stamps, stencils, art papers, crayons and specially mixed signature paints – you name it, it's on my wish-list. And none of it is cheap – especially if you buy whole sets of designer products.

I was going through some old art journals the other night and what struck me was how I had been able to produce a wide variety of pages using very few materials. Face-palm moment - I don't need a great stack of art supplies to make mixed media art.

Come and have a browse through some of my old journals and I will share with you some simple techniques to add color and layers to your art - whether it be in books, on paper - or anything else that you want to decorate with layered mixed media.


The journal above is made from some left-over book packaging. I gessoed it, painted it, stamped it, painted some more, added bubble-wrap stamping, collaged it with a face and flowers I'd previously drawn, stamped some text, highlighted some areas with pen and shaded other areas with charcoal.


Budget Art Supplies

This is my suggested list of basic supplies. Pick and choose, you don't have to have everything. You could manage with paper, pens and glue to start with.

  • Acrylic paint in the three primary colors: red, blue and yellow, plus black and white. You will use a lot of paint so buy in large tubes or containers. It doesn't have to be artist quality. Craft paint is fine.
  • White Gesso - A primer that can also be mixed with paint. It adds texture to backgrounds and can be built up in layers. Gesso also comes in clear and black.
  • Paint brushes – get a cheap set; you're going to kill them anyway with all the gluing.
  • Old magazines.
  • Scrapbook papers (not essential).
  • Glue – I use glue sticks, PVA, Mod Podge and Golden Gel Medium. You don't need them all, plain old PVA will be fine.
  • Paper towel rolls for cleaning up and dabbing your brushes dry.
  • A piece of sequin waste, sometimes called 'punchinella'.
  • Styrofoam/polystyrene pieces.
  • Bubble wrap.
  • Watercolor soluble crayons - useful in so many ways. A little costly but well worth it.
  • Graphite pencils plus a charcoal pencil.
  • Black pens – choose waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron or Sharpies.
  • Found objects/embellishments – string, yarn, buttons, coins, washers, fabric scraps, paper scraps.
  • Look for interesting things that could be used as stamps or stencils. One of my most useful things is a piece of plastic that came out of my fridge – it was part of a shelf meant for eggs so has lots of perfectly round holes in it.


Mixed Media Backgrounds - First Layers

You may be working in a book, on watercolor paper, a board or on canvas. You can even use discarded cardboard packaging. If the support (surface) is thin or very porous, it will require priming with acrylic gesso.

I love making backgrounds, it's my favorite part; it's all about experimenting and having fun with color. Here are some techniques for backgrounds:

Tip: have a hairdryer or preferably a heat gun to speed up drying time.

  1. Paint all over with one layer of acrylic paint. You can experiment with mixing colors. Use undiluted. Allow to dry. Paint with a thin layer of gesso. Again, let it dry and use another paint color; this time dilute it with water so the first color glows through.

  2. Do the same as before, adding some torn paper text onto the first layer of paint. Glue the pieces on randomly, let them dry and continue with the other layers.

  3. Take an old credit card and scrape a layer of paint. While it is still wet, scrape another color in the opposite direction.

  4. Collage the whole surface with paper scraps, then gesso. Use your fingers to rub paint over the surface to show up the texture. You can do the same thing with tissue paper. Glue it down and encourage it to crinkle. It must be bone dry before adding paint.

  5. Get hold of some cheap mini spray bottles, dilute some acrylic paint with water and spray the paints on to the surface. You could lay objects down – punchinella, elastic bands, plastic combs, string, bottle tops, anything to provide a stencil.

  6. Get a piece of flat styrofoam – mine comes from frozen pizza packaging. Get a ballpoint pen and draw a design into the foam. Paint it with acrylic and press it onto your paper. Instant stamp at almost no cost at all – and someone got pizza. Make lots of these.


Adding Layers to Mixed Media Art

I love adding layers, it's also my favorite part; be bold and don't worry about the end result.

  • Make a border. Collage some scrap paper or scribble a border with water-soluble crayons. Entirely up to you whether you activate them with water or not. Alternatively, take your black pens and doodle all round the edges.
  • Cut out interesting images from magazines – faces, food, cars, watches, text, animals, trees, anything that takes your eye. My kids and I sometimes spend an afternoon going through old National Geographics and cutting out things we think would be useful for collage. We do spend quite a lot of time reading the articles too – as a home-schooling mama, I like the idea of learning while playing!
  • Lay down your collage pieces, move them around the page until you have made a layout that appeals. Glue the pieces into place. Once they are dry, take a soft graphite pencil or charcoal pencil and go round the edges lightly. Smudge the graphite/charcoal with a finger or a paper blender. This integrates the collage to the background and gives a nice grungy look.
  • I bet you have been using paper towels to wipe your brushes on and clean up spills as you go, yes? Well go get them out of the trash and carefully spread them out. Look at those colors! If you want you can glue them directly on to your page, or maybe, you'd like to iron them first? Tear into strips and leave gaps in between so your background shows through. Add more paint if you wish. Anything goes!
  • Take a small piece of bubble wrap, paint the bubbly side with white acrylic paint and stamp it on to your page. Let it go over some of the collage.
  • Get your child to draw pictures for you. My daughter is great at portraits – she draws very spontaneously and loves to let me have them for my journals.

Top Layers

Adding the top layer is my favorite part, really! I love to see how it all comes together; how certain areas melt into the background and other bits pop.

  1. Scribble, draw or doodle.

  2. Embellish with small objects.

  3. Glue on a family photo.

  4. Add lace scraps.

  5. Journal or add a quote that inspires you.

  6. Highlight areas with a metallic gel pen or a white correction pen. Go raid your kid's pencil case.

  7. Shade other areas with your charcoal pencil. It pushes them back into the page.



There are trillions of manufactured, mass-produced embellishments at craft stores these days. It's much more fun to find your own. Be authentic and don't follow the crowd. Steer away from other people's designs and discover your own.


There are supplies for your mixed media art all around you - look in the kitchen; have you thought about painting your pages with coffee or tea? How about in the yard? Glue some tiny twigs onto your pages. The bathroom? Those make-up sponges would be great for making textured backgrounds. You don't have to spend lots of money to have fun with art!

Questions & Answers

    Arty? Crafty? Just Want to Comment? Please Do!

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      • profile image

        Lisa 3 weeks ago

        Very much appreciate all of your tips because I'm been trying to figure out how to get the transparency look. Thank you for creating this site!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thanks, Chef. Although I am a bit addicted to art supplies (they are always on my Christmas list), I do make them last a very long time. I also recycle a lot of stuff like packaging - flat-ish Amazon boxes make great journal covers!

      • chef-de-jour profile image

        Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

        Lovely suggestions and final creations, thank you. Being a dabbler in all things arty I'm inspired by your inventions and techniques. So much creative fun going on. It's interesting to note that you prefer buying in regularly by the looks of things whereas I am the original miser when it comes to using paint,ink,paper and other materials. I tend to keep things for years! You probably produce much more I suspect! That's great.

        Flourishing journals are the bees knees.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Many thanks, Lori x

      • By Lori profile image

        By Lori 5 years ago from USA

        Nice Hub - I like mixed media art too.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thank you so much, you very clever cat! I'll have to find you on Pinterest!

      • theclevercat profile image

        Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

        Wow! What a beautiful hub and gorgeous artwork.

        I love to mix different types of media together, and this is so inspiring -- this colorful hub has got to be my favorite! Voted up, awesome, beautiful, and pinned it. Thanks!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thank you very much, EyesStraightAhead.

      • EyesStraightAhead profile image

        Shell Vera 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

        Your artwork is great. I am a huge fan of mixed media and I love the way you use it. Your use of color and texture is great, and I love the ways the objects blend together yet still stand apart.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 6 years ago from Wales, UK

        And so are you for saying so!

      • kartika damon profile image

        kartika damon 6 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

        Wonderful hub - I love to art journal and it is so much fun to see other artist's journals. Your work is delightful!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 6 years ago from Wales, UK

        You are right, Natashalh. There seems to be this crazy notion that we have to have all the supplies and all the neat techniques in order to make art, and that is so not true. I think a person can (has to) be more creative if they have less to use, iykwim?

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 6 years ago from Hawaii

        I was thinking about you today in the craft store. I went specifically for some mod podge and was amazed by how expensive so much of the stuff there is, especially considering that most of the ore-fab things seem to be exceptionally low-quality. Just as you noted, nothing at all was inspirational there! I just wanted to get what I came for and get out.

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 6 years ago from Wales, UK

        Thanks so much, SimeyC, yougotme, Brainy Bunny, GoodLady, Judi Bee and Laura. Your comments are very much appreciated.

      • LauraGSpeaks profile image

        LauraGSpeaks 6 years ago from Raleigh, NC

        I love this hub! What great ideas. You made it so inspirational and also imply that it is easy to try. The best part is your artwork that you have used as examples. The visuals are just great.

      • Judi Bee profile image

        Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

        I had no idea what the title meant, but what an accessible art form this is. Love the results and it sounds like fun. If I ever have some time, this in on my "to do" list.

        Voted up etc

      • GoodLady profile image

        Penelope Hart 6 years ago from Rome, Italy

        Now I know what to play at when I play with my granddaughter next. (when tidy, clean parents have hopefully left us alone) It's such a fun Hub and such a great way to get children engaged with learning.

        Plus the artwork is wonderful. (How cool to use an old credit card to paint with! And the paper towels in the rubbish!) Love it theraggededge

        and Voting all around on this one.

      • Brainy Bunny profile image

        Brainy Bunny 6 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

        I used to make collages way back in high shool, and I've done a little scrapbooking, but the techniques you've shown here go way beyond anything I've seen before. I can't wait to break out the glue and paints and everything else in my crafts cabinet!

      • yougotme profile image

        Renz Kristofer Cheng 6 years ago from Manila

        Wow! Marvelous! I'm really interested in arts. This is just great! It's my first time to be exposed to mixed media layering. :)

      • SimeyC profile image

        Simon Cook 6 years ago from NJ, USA

        Fascinating hub - even this art challenged person may have to try this with his grandson!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 6 years ago from Wales, UK

        Good fun to do with grandchildren!

      • wilderness profile image

        Dan Harmon 6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        Fascinating - I've never heard or seen of anything like this. This has to go on my "to try" list of things I'd like to do.